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Mar 16, 2010

Bloody-minded promises in Bangkok's sea of red

There will be blood in Thailand, with protesters from the Red Shirt movement preparing to donate their blood and then throw it on Government House. The tension belies a largely carnival atmosphere, writes Simon Roughneen from Bangkok.


On Monday two Thai Army personnel were injured by 4 M79 grenades fired at camp on the outskirts of Bangkok, though no political motive has been ascribed yet. Red Shirt leader Jatuphon Promphan told the Thai government the demonstrators will spill their blood tomorrow — a gesture to seek the dissolution of the current government, which they regard as illegitimate.

However, the Red Shirts have pledged a peaceful demonstration, and do not intend a World War I-style “blood sacrifice” by hurling themselves in some suicidal assault on the Thai security forces. As Crikey went to press, at about 8am Thailand time, some of the estimated 10,0000-plus protesters will give blood to a 1000-litre “donation”, which the Reds intend to throw all over Government House if the current administration refuses accede to their demands.

There will be blood, then, as the government is refusing to budge, saying only it will listen to the demonstrators’ demands, and so long as the demonstration is peaceful will not use force against it.

How long can the Red Shirts keep going? On Monday morning, I hitched a ride with the demonstrators from central Bangkok, where the Reds have been gathering since Friday night, to the army barracks where the PM is holed-up.

“I haven’t slept properly in four nights, and haven’t washed for five days,” said Naran, a 63-year-old farmer from the Isaan region in the north-east. Nonetheless he was up and on the road early Monday morning, as the rally made the slow trek through extra-heavy Bangkok traffic to the army barracks to hear Jatuphon make his blood pledge.

Temperatures reach the mid-30s by mid-morning, and hold at that until well into the evening, so the demonstrators might soon get fatigued even if they are used to the hot sun on their farms. “I have just this set of clothes with me,” added Chanchai, who clung to a Thai flag festooned across the back of the Toyota pick-up, all the way out to the army barracks.

Until Monday’s sanguine (to use the old definition of the word) outburst and grenade attack, the high political stakes largely belied what has been a carnival atmosphere so far. Though some of the rhetoric from the Red shirt leaders has been as spicy as the Thai snacks being cooked all along Bangkok’s Ratchadamnoen Avenue.

Not least that used by Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former PM who has been charged with corruption, but remains a hero to many Red Shirts. He phoned in to the rally late Sunday evening, calling the current PM Abhisit Vejajjiva “a child”, according to a translation given to me by a Thai colleague, adding the Reds were there to protest the anti-democratic way Thailand is run.

He told them to keep it peaceful, but as the poet put it, will blood lead to blood?


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